Say Hello to Google TV

Logitech dropped the Revue yesterday, the first offering in what is sure to be a bevy of devices designed to bring the Web into your living room.  So with all the wonderful things your phone can do on a 3.5 inch screen in your pocket, why wouldn’t you want the same kind of customized content being fed to you on your big screen while you watch a related show? Well maybe because you’re giving Big Brother G a bunch of information about yourself in the process.  Every time a user fires up Google’s laser-like search functions he makes an implicit choice to pay a toll in the new currency of the Internet: personal information.  Don’t you forget it. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Consider the following video from 2009:

While your privacy-muscle may twitch when listening to CEO Eric Schmidt describe his vision for Smart-TVs, the fact of the matter is that no one’s making you use their services (which are free, and generally work really REALLY well).  And there’s no doubt that Page, Brin, and Schmidt will enhance the TV experience one way or another.

Netflix streaming will be accesible via an Android-based app provided for Google TV—which seems to indicate an Android phone app is likely on its way. It’s up to apps to make themselves open to Google TV’s universal search so results can show up. Negotiations between Google and Hulu are ongoing, meaning we could see Hulu Plus show up sometime soon.

Other apps will be available from a Google TV market—a silo within the Android Marketplace—which reps say should launch sometime next year, or “as fast as possible.” An SDK, based on the existing Android SDK, will be made available, with a Google rep saying devs “will be able to reuse a lot of code.” The same rep said a separate search algorithm—”Google TV Search”—draws from a wide body of content, including live television, guide listings, and, when paired with Dish, video stored on your DVR. The TV search will also pull in what’s on the web.

Gizmodo

So far, my own HTPC (a Windows PC plugged into my TV) has been good, not great.  But Logitech is a company that specializes in controllers and interfaces, so I’m optimistic that this could put a better spin on the experience.  From the viewpoint of a relatively educated consumer, it seems as though the Big G may wind up with more to offer Google TV customers than Apple can through iTunes.  Since 98% of Google’s revenue comes from search, they are not in the business of controlling or distributing content, just serving it to you as quickly and accurately as possible.  They want you to be able to find whatever the hell you want (and generally for free), because, frankly, they want to know what the hell it is you want so they can serve it to you in the form of targeted ads.  Apple on the other hand, wants to control every aspect of its content-distribution ecosystem, and make micro-transactions on each individual episode you “rent” (read: play on demand).  That’s great for Steve, but might end up limiting how much content they’re able to get on board.  Either way, we’re watching the future of Television unfold.  You might want to stay tuned.

RIM Announces Playbook Tablet, Still Playing Defense

RIM has finally announced that its new tablet will go on sale in early 2011.  More importantly, the 7″ ‘PlayBook’ (formerly known as the ‘Blackpad’) will support Adobe Flash, finally giving me the hope that we’ll find out if Apple really keeps flash off of its devices for battery issues, or if Joaoaerbs just wants to keep web applets out of his iTunes/GameCenter ecosystem.

The initial version will have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections but will only be able to connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone. RIM said it intends to offer 3G and 4G ready tablets “in the future.”

The PlayBook will run on an all-new operating system built by QNX Software Systems, which makes software used to run everything from cars to nuclear reactors. RIM bought QNX earlier this year, and has been working to adapt the software for mobile phones.

The move means RIM will have to juggle two distinct operating systems. The company announced its BlackBerry 6 operating system for smartphones in April, and rolled out the first handset running on it, the BlackBerry Torch, last month.

WSJ

Connectivity through your existing Blackberry phone sounds like a great idea from a data-consumer’s point of view, but they’re certainly not going to gain market share on Apple with a strategy that only appeals to current Blackberry users.  It should also be noted that, like most Blackberry products, the PlayBook seems to be geared specifically to enterprise.  They’re likely not trying pry loose Apple’s stranglehold over the consumer market just yet.  So despite demonstrations of video, photo, and e-reader uses, as well as its ‘play’ful name, I wouldn’t expect users to be loading it with games any time soon.

Although, if they so wish, and if the browser is strong enough, Blackberry fans could get their fill of gaming through the web since, again, the PlayBook will support flash.  The only difference is they’ll be getting that content for free, whereas Apple’s stonewalling of Adobe’s popular technology has afforded them the unique ability to charge up to $9.99 for games that we would have otherwise played free on the web.

The WSJ article also made no mention of the price point.  It’s certainly a tough question, and it’s entirely possible that RIM hasn’t decided where to position the device in terms of pricing.  To make an Apple comparison again, the iPad can easily be sold at a loss because of the implied revenue they expect to make by selling apps, much like Microsoft has done with their Xbox.  The money is in the software (games or otherwise).  But without a robust developer base, you can’t count on app sales as a revenue stream to keep the device afloat.  In that sense, and with an entirely new OS, the Blackberry faces the same uphill battle that Sony did when they launched the PS3.  The console is certainly a very capable device (as I’m sure the PlayBook will be), but it struggled to gain traction for quite a while because developers shied away from its largely unknown architecture.

Ray Sharma, founder of XMG Studios, a closely held Toronto firm that develops games for the iPhone and Android platforms, was encouraged by RIM’s announcements Monday, but said it’s too soon to say whether his firm will begin developing games for the BlackBerry platform or for the PlayBook.

Mr. Sharma said the QNX operating system, while highly touted, is an unknown. By contrast, the Android system is on version 2.2, while the Apple OS is in its fourth iteration, he said. Mr. Sharma is also monitoring the progress of Microsoft Corp.’s new Windows mobile operating system, which will integrate with the company’s X-Box videogame system, making it particularly attractive for game developers, he said.

WSJ

RIM will try to compete for developers’ attention by waiving developer fees and attempting to streamline the app-creation process with a new development platform, but they are taking a significant risk with PlayBook, because of the enormous first-mover advantage enjoyed in this kind of product.  The quantity and quality of software is what will sell the hardware, and hardware sales attract developers in-turn.  It’s a chicken-egg situation that either results in a snowball-cum-avalanche or complete gridlock.  RIM is attempting to move the PlayBook by adding more features than Apple’s iPad, but they are features that do not offer the company additional revenue streams.  Connectivity through your Blackberry phone’s existing data connection means no revenue through sales of additional data plans.  And as I’ve already said, Flash support means that apps can run on the web instead of being sold in RIM’s version of the App Store.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the PlayBook was actually more expensive than the iPad, offering more features and more free content once you pay the upfront cost, and I don’t see that strategy dethroning El Jobso.  So where’s their edge (and you can’t feed me the BBM mantra anymore!)?

The stock market doesn’t appear to see one, as RIMM shares are trading down about 3% today while the broader market hovers around neutral to slightly positive.

[Wall Street Journal]